24 Jan

Multi-tasking. I have been multi-tasking lately. The job of an editor, particularly a new one, is a thankless stream of emails that need to be written. Emails to contributors, co-workers and PR folks, follow-up emails to contributors, co-workers and PR folks…

Okay, it’s not exactly thankless; after all, I get to have correspondence with some of my favorite people! But it is somewhat consuming. Beyond that, there are the commitments of my day-to-day; writing charts for school, coordinating with students, practicing for upcoming shows, writing my own pieces for the mag, working on new music, etc.

Twitter is gasoline on a fire, since Tweetdeck’s constantly updating feed offers an endless stream of possible distractions. I’ve developed a fair number of conditioned mouse-movements while at my computer; every few minutes I’ll slide my mouse over to the right and bring up my dock, check Twitter for new stuff, check my email inbox. While these actions feel ‘necessary’ to ‘keep up’ with the ‘online rat-race’ (single-quotes ‘TM’ Leigh Alexander), it has become surprisingly difficult to maintain focus on a single task.

(Single quotes added to ‘TM’ because I have been informed by multiple people Leigh did not, in fact, ‘invent’ nor ‘trademark’ single quotes. Her ‘Five Emotions’ piece, however, seemed relevant to the topic at hand.)

When I first heard people talking about internet-blocking software, I scoffed. “I can control myself,” I haughtily haughted. “I am more productive now than I have ever been! I do not need this program to allow me to get work done.” But this year, Urban gave all faculty members a bunch of productivity software, including an internet-blocking app. Since it was just sitting there, I decided to give it a go. And it’s pretty great.

We’ve actually got a whole suite of programs— “Islolator” blacks out the entire screen except for one window and “WriteRoom” closes down the machine except for a single blank piece of paper, which it then saves into TextEdit. But the most famous (and most unforgivingly medieval) of all of our apps is Freedom, the internet-blocker created by Fred Stutzman.

It’s simple: turn it on, set an amount of time, and the internet is blocked. The only way to get it back is to restart the computer. Of course, Freedom doesn’t block web access from my phone, or my PC, or any number of other internet-ready devices around my house. But I find that by eliminating the web from the computer on which I am currently working, I am able to focus much more effectively. I tend to use it in 20- and 30-minute stretches, usually when I have a single task (article, chart, editing job, lengthy correspondence) that I need to complete. It works, and it works well.

[Though I must say, there is no small amount of irony in the program’s “mission accomplished” dialogue box, which informs me my time is up while asking if I’d like to “tweet my stats.” Akin to a note at the bottom of a package of Nicorette that reads “Congratulations on five smoke-free days! Why don’t you celebrate with a nice, smooth Parliament light?”]

It’s easy to look at a program like Freedom in binary terms. The internet is an evil distraction, and Freedom is the cure! But of course, the reality is more complicated than that. Modern-day connectivity allows for a great many things, and all of my methods of communication and creation are phenomenally empowering and fun. Freedom is simply another tool. It’s a counterbalance, a bit of yin in a sea of yang.

Or maybe it’s the other way ’round, I can never quite get yin and yang straight. Hang on I’m gonna check wikipedia.


6 Responses to “Freedom”

  1. Howard Levin January 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    We installed the “Distraction Free” tools on all computers — all faculty and student laptops. See:

    I thus far, purposefully, have not actively promoted these in hopes that serendipitous discovery would lead to deeper, more meaningful, and less dogmatic sense of use. It might be time to promote it more!
    Thanks for posting this.

    • Kirk January 24, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

      I certainly just stumbled upon it; cool that the kids have it as well (makes sense, of course). I’d heard about the software before, but was skeptical as to whether or not I’d need it. It’s certainly not the sort of thing that can’t really be prescribed… everyone has to find a way that works for them.

      I like the short bursts, though I could also see firing it up for a several-hour period of time to really focus on musical stuff (practicing/composing). At any rate, it’s been very cool to experiment with, and was a great addition to our software this year!

  2. Anne January 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Huh. I, too, deny that I am an Internet-addicted rat hammering away at my refresh button in hopes of a tasty dopamine pellet. Can I get this program for free?

    • Kirk January 24, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

      I believe you have to pay for it, but you can also get a trial. Definitely worth trying, and if you like it, I’d say it’s worth $10.

  3. Brian January 26, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    Credit where credit is due, I’m pretty sure the ‘single quotes’ are a ‘stylistic tic’ borrowed from ‘’.

    RE: shutting down though, I am *this* close to a massive purge of people I follow on Twitter… if I don’t check in for half a day, catching up can take half an hour, and I can’t help but wonder, have I really gained anything?

    • Kirk January 26, 2011 at 8:47 am #

      I was pretty sure Leigh didn’t actually ‘invent’ single quotes. An inelegant way to segue to a link to her ‘Five Emotions’ piece, which seemed appropriate.

      Yeah, I hear you re: people on twitter. I recently went through and cleared out a bunch, simply because it was getting to be too much, and I was getting too many conversations I didn’t care about between people I don’t know.

      I hope not to be one of those people who announces their twitter-purges on twitter, though. (You know? “Boy, I just unfollowed a shitload of people. No offense, anyone”). Has always seemed tacky.

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